Iran, Israel, and the Necessity of Political Boogeymen

No matter where or when a politician runs for office, the one thing they will always need is a political boogeyman.  They must have some real or imagined evil taking place that they believe they could fix if we just give them our vote at the polls.  And this is natural since the opposite would sound rather ridiculous.  “Please elect me because things are perfect and I want to continue that by not changing anything and doing as little as possible.”  Despite the fact it probably seems like many politicians do close to nothing at times, they certainly couldn’t win an election with that platform.  (Except maybe in the gerrymandered and uncompetitive districts in America.  They could probably still win those.  Only half kidding, sadly.)

The boogeymen usually have two key characteristics.  The first is that the politician sees the evil being performed as an abnormality from their perception of societal norms.  The second, typically, is that the boogeymen have little to no political power, preferably no voting power.  Take for instance illegal immigrants, criminals, foreign country/ideas influences, or the poor (since their voting turnout is lower than the shrinking middle class and the getting wealthier wealthy).  If you haven’t heard a politician angrily talk about these evils, you haven’t heard a politician talk.

Most will remember Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Looney Tunes-like diagram he held up during his speech at the United Nations last September when he suggested Iran would be most of the way to a nuclear bomb by early-to-mid 2013.  The potential prospect suggested seemed a bit scary while at the same time the presentation was a bit unintentionally humorous.  But Netanyahu was just doing what he needed to help himself as a politician.  He had an election coming and he needed to show why he was the one Israel should choose to continue its fight against its enemies.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Jacques E. C. Hymans addresses the overall situation between the West and Iran and particularly the numerous failed intelligence assessments by both the U.S. and Israel, at least failed when reality is compared to the rhetoric of each country’s politicians.  Hymans points out the move could be political but strangely dismisses the idea for the exact reason it should, in fact, be seen as political.  Hymans argument:

A second hypothesis is that Israeli intelligence estimates have been manipulated for political purposes. This possibility is hard to verify, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand. Preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran is Netanyahu’s signature foreign policy stance, and he had an acute interest in keeping the anti-Iran pot boiling in the run-up to last month’s parliamentary elections, which he nearly lost. Now, with the elections over, perhaps Israeli intelligence officials feel freer to convey a more honest assessment of Iran’s status. This theory of pre-election spin is not very satisfying, however, because it fails to explain why Israeli governments of all political orientations have been making exaggerated claims about Iran for 20 years — to say nothing of the United States’ own overly dire predictions.

The reality that Israeli claims about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been overblown for over two decades now should reinforce the idea these claims have been political.  The idea that the length of time this has been going on nulls the possibility it is political bears no resemblance to history.  Take almost any other common political boogeyman.  Railing about illegal immigrants in the U.S. has gone on since long before anyone reading this was born.  Politicians are still debating the use of marijuana while some states are legalizing it.  Look at the era of Prohibition.  The Red Scare.  The list goes on and on.

In fact, there is an obvious clue in the article that should have tipped the author off to this being political.  Hymans points out Israel has backed off its claim Iran will have a nuclear weapon this year and now projects they will have a weapon around 2015 or 2016.

Take a wild guess when the next parliamentary elections in Israel will likely take place.

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